She was born south of the border,
but not as the song lyrics say: ♪
down Mexico way. She was born south of Mexico's border, in the
tiny country of British Honduras on November 7th, 1937, in the small town of
Orange Walk. Yet life would take her, at times, north of the border,
up Mexico way. And, in time, it would take her even farther north.
While many receive two names at birth, she
received just one. They named her Serafina, a name derived from the
seraphim angels who stand before the throne of God. That's the
etymology of it. While that's of interest, there's always a
history to naming, which may or may not reflect the origin of the name.
Exactly why this particular name was chosen for her can only be speculated
at now, but it is known that another person in the colony had that name, a
person unrelated to the family. I would think her parents heard the
name, and it could very well be that they simply just liked it
and wanted to give it to their daughter. There could also be another reason
that factored into parental thinking. Her mother was a religious
person. It's possible she heard of a saint by that name from the nuns
who served in the community, influencing her choice.
While we don't know when she came to the town where Serafina was born, a Sr. Serapia taught there
― in fact, would come to be Serafina's teacher
― and St. Serapia was also called Seraphia, another form of Serafina. A possible
saint to name a child after, was the inspirational 13th
Century saint named Serafina or Seraphina 1
of Tuscany, Italy,
whose "example of kindness, patience and love, in the face of pain,
rejection and destitution, brought her to the heights of holiness."
She only lived until she was 15 (approximately the
age of Serafina as shown here in a photograph taken in Merida,
Serafina's parents were Leonides
Leocadia Leiva de Gonzalez, who spoke both Spanish and some Maya, an Indian
language of the region. To some extent her father was also trilingual, as he
also spoke English. Besides their Indian blood, the ancestral roots of Leonides,
traced back to Spain and to a Confederate soldier, while those of Leocadia traced to
2, another Central American country to the south.
Baby Serafina was baptised on the 9th of January,
1938, about two months after her birth. It
took place at La Inmaculada Church
3 in the settlement of Orange Walk, and if
the custom was then as it would be later on, the church bells rang out in the
town, proclaiming her Christening. While Serafina’s name did not carry forth
with the sound of the bell to the townsfolk, it was spoken
within the walls of the church. One can imagine her mother and
her madrina Petronilla Gomez, wearing lacey mantillas, standing by the font
as the water was poured for these special sacramental services.
Afterwards the family and some neighbors in town, probably gathered at the
child's thatched-roofed home to celebrate the occasion, maybe with pieces of yellow cake and
hot bowls of a special dish of onion rings immersed in a broth flavored with
spices, and the juices of onion and chicken, a dish called escabeche. It's
eaten with pieces of fried or baked chicken and corn tortillas, often taco
style. The little girl would become the fifth in a family of nine who would
survive till adulthood, which included her siblings: Rodrigo, Juliana,
Estela, Carmita, Santiago, Margarita, Viola and Teresita. Several of
her brothers died either in infancy or before being grown, and these included
Enrique, Emilio, Leonides and Panchito
Orange Walk was a sleepy tropical
town, predominantly a cluster of thatched houses and wooden
buildings with corrogated zinc roofs, intermingled and shaded with various
trees, such as palm, orange, avocado and cashew. The town was situated on the banks of the
New River, down which mahoghany logs and other woods were floated to
Chetumal Bay, where the Caribbean Sea formed an inlet between British
Honduras and Mexico. From there, the woods were taken southward along the coast
to the capital city, then known as Belize. Across the quiet current of this
river from the town, was a kind of jungle called bush. It cast its image in
the water, as did the clouds and the sky. A remembered scene was the
light color of soil washing into the dark of the river after a rain, like
coffee being creamed.
Historically, the stream was called by the Indians Dz'uluinicob
4, a name meaning "foreigners." It would seem
that a logical reason for the name would've been the encountering of strangers on the river, paddling up from the sea or coming down from parts
of the interior country. An American archaeological historian wrote,
that Tikal in Guatemala and other cities, used the rivers flowing into Chetumal Bay, as roads to make contact with the sea. The town was not
very distant from the lower course of
another river, which separated the colony from Mexico, and which also flowed
in the same bay. This border river is called the Rio Hondo 5
and it's said that it was once probably called
Xnoha in the Maya tongue (xnoh, great + ha, water or
river). Orange Walk then, with the New to the east and the Hondo
to the west, lay between two rivers mentioned as roads to the sea.
The Maya term belikin, meaning
"road to the east," would fit nicely with these rivers, as they flowed to
the sea that lay to the east. One of them was only a city block or two
away, downslope from Serafina's home, and she went with others to swim in
it. Little did she know of its place in history. To her it was
most often simply the river, "el rio." Some suggest belikin is
the origin of name Belize, the name given to the old capital and to the present
country. In the Maya language, be or bel means road and
lik'in or lak'in means east (k'iin is day or sun and
chikin is west). While other ideas as to origin have been
put forth, like the Maya word belix (meaning "muddy water") applied
to a river called the Belize to the south, the etymology of Belize is said
to be unclear. And while the river to the south was considered muddy,
the river flowing past Serafina's town was generally clear enough that one
could see down into the water a ways, when she was growing up and lived
Orange Walk had
a wharf upon the river. This was a jumping off point for the chicleros.
From here the chicleros would boat upriver, to go into the bush country to
gather the chicle sap, collected from slashes made in sapodilla trees. The sap
would be cooked and formed into blocks for export, the base for chewing gum.
One of those who sought chicle was Serafina's maternal grandfather, the
Spanish Honduran Jose Maria Leiva.
says when they went to buy kerosene, they had to go to the back of the
store, where blocks of chicle were kept. They would take a bite from a
block to chew. Once, her older sister Estela went to get kerosene and
they sold her a bottle of gasoline by mistake. It was poured into a
lamp in the house, and when the lamp was lit, it exploded, hurling the fuel
bottle into a nearby hammock, setting it afire. In the hammock, lay Serafina's toddler sister Margarita and her baby brother Santiago, just
months old. Juliana grabbed Santiago and her mother grabbed Margarita.
Her mother was seared by the flames and badly burned. The fire burnt
Margarita's foot. Serafina was still quite young and doesn't remember the
fire. She may not have been present in the room at the time.
Her brother Rodrigo had some difficulty pronouncing Serafina’s name. He
articulated "Sair-ah-fee-nah" in such a way that it ended up being attached
to her as Chapi, the "a" having an "ah" sound. It would seem that he picked up on or enunciated the middle
vowels of Serafina:
the "ah" and "ee" sounds, perhaps omitting the "f" sound
or maybe saying it in such a way that it became lost to the ear. It's possible he even heard a shorter form of her
name, Seraf (Spanish for Seraph, a single Seraphim), pronounced "Sair-ahf"
with a stronger "ah" sound. In any case it stuck and became her nickname.
(For Rodrigo himself, Digin would become his nickname. It might have come
about something like this: the "drigo" part of Rodrigo was misspoken as "digo"
and evolved into "digin." )
Her father was a good provider.
He hunted wild birds like chachalaca, turkey and green parrot, and wild
animals like peccary, armadillo, gibnut and deer 6. They often had
venison to eat. While her mother was cooking marinated deer steak, little Serafina, perhaps a three-year-old then, was the taster. She would tell
her mother: "Si no tiene shal, no shirve; si no tiene shebolla, no shirve
(If it doesn't have sal [salt], it's no good [no sirve], and if it doesn't
have cebollas [onions], it's no good)." While telling her all this, she
would be eating raw pieces of the marinated venison.
Her mother was a good cook, and shared with others.
She would feed people who came to the house and the Padre Ricardo, the
who would go to the villages. When he came back to Orange Walk late,
he would come to her
off his muddy boots, and when asked what he'd like to eat, was known to say,
"Beans or whatever." At Christmas time, she would bake yellow cake and escabeche, or a dish called relleno, to send to her
compadres (She was the godmother of neighborhood children for their Baptism and their parents were called her compadres. The relleno was
cooked turkey or hen, stuffed with spiced pork and hard boiled eggs (lleno
means "full" in Spanish). Her mother would beat egg white with a wooden tool called a majaz, a stick with
little branches cut in one end, about a half to an inch in length Serafina says she'd get the
whites as stiff as if it were done with an electric mixer. From the
whites she would bake a light, cookie-like treat called meringue.
Sickness of course
visited them, and for serious illness that they couldn't treat in the
colony, they would take their children across the border into Mexico, for
medical attention. Enrique, who was then about ten, died of a contagious disease in Mexico, and they had to
bury him there, grieving his parents and family. When Serafina was
about four years old, another brother, Emilio, became ill and was taken by
his concerned parents to Mexico. At the time, this involved
the expense of travelling by road to a place called Consejo, where they
would take a boat, to cross a span of water called Chetumal Bay to get to the
Mexican city of Chetumal. While there, the parents learned Emilio's
death was imminent and they were desperate to get him back to British
Honduras, so they wouldn't have to bury him away from his own country like his brother.
With Emilio still alive, they boarded the boat back to Consejo, and
re-crossed the bay to the British Honduran side. They were
relieved to be out of Mexico, with Emilio still breathing, but their
journey home was delayed, when someone else took the taxi they had arranged
for, to take them and their dying son. After
some time, they eventually they reached
their house in Orange Walk. Emilio had survived the trip, only to die as they
came under their own roof. Serafina, perhaps frightened and upset by
it all, hid behind the door of their thatch-roofed home as her brother was
brought in. And the sadness of their loss fell upon the family once
When she was about six, she herself required medical attention. A couple of
houses away from theirs, was one belonging to the Gomez family. Without
permission, she and a sister crawled through a hole in the fence to go
there. While at the Gomez house, one of the boys, Sani, pushed her and she
went out a window. She hit the blinds that weren't hooked and they
gave way. The window was on the second floor, and she fell through it,
down to the ground, breaking a leg. The injury was such that her broken limb
was hanging. Her father carried her through the streets to the
hospital, where they put a cast on her leg and kept her. The cast itched her
and she would scratch it, so the nurses tied her
hands together as if she were in prayer. Her father got mad at them for
doing this and untied her hands. While there, she asked her sister Juliana
to take her to see the rest of the hospital. Her sister complied and
carried her around, but Juliana told Serafina not to
tell the doctor. But, as soon as the patient saw the doctor, the first thing she did,
was tell him..
At that time there was a doctor who wanted to adopt her. Her father adamantly refused.
In time to come, a sister would tell her, that she could’ve been a doctor’s daughter, and have
Much later in life, that fall
from the window would be recalled. She would be in a terrible
accident, when the car she was driving was hit broadside on the
driver’s door. She didn't see the other vehicle coming. In the
suddenness of the mishap, the air bags deployed and she fell unconscious.
The impact turned the seat and threw her legs underneath the dash, toward
the middle. When she came to, she was confused at first. She
became aware that her seat belt was tight and hurting her. Seeing a policeman outside,
she became concerned whether she would get a ticket if he saw that her seat
belt was unfastened, so she left it fastened. The car was so
damaged, they had cut her out. The accident left her with broken
ribs and a fractured pelvis. From the X-rays they took at the time, they discovered
she had a previous
pelvic fracture that had healed. Apparently, the result of the fall from the window,
years before, was worse than they knew at the time.
In their early years the family wasn’t
well off. Serafina tells of the time they needed a jar of Vicks
but weren't able to get it, even though her father worked to support them.
with sugar cane, making rum and logging. In the latter
job, he piloted a riverboat, towing logs downstream, so many abreast, one
bunch after another in a long, raft-like form. At a bend in the
river, the logs might get caught, and when his helpers were afraid to go
into the water at night for fear of alligators, he went into the water to
loosen the logs.
even come home late from the river,
and go out early, to hunt with his sons and sometimes with villagers who
spoke Maya. He kept hunting dogs for the
purpose, and the Maya-speaking men called a dog by their word, pek',
and distinguished them by their color: a white dog was a sac pek'
(sock peck); a black one, box pek' (bohsh peck); a
yellow or tan one, can pek' (con peck); and a red one, chac pek'
(chock peck). They would release the dogs into the
bush and listen for them to find a quarry. The way they barked told
the hunters when they had game on the run. The hunters would watch for
the animal to be chased out into the open, to shoot. Sometimes a dog
would be lost for a while, and was always subject to being bitten by a
snake, and there are some bad ones down there, like the barba amarilla or
yellow jaw. One time, at home, one of the dogs was foaming at the
mouth, and her mother put the children up on the table to protect them,
while she took care of the matter.
Even as a child, Serafina
had a sense of domestic order, that survives to this day. When her older
sister Carmita had friends over to play, and her mother sent Carmita on a
errand, Serafina would in turn send the friends home and put away whatever
they were playing with.
They didn't have much in playthings but they were
happy. She doesn't remember having any toys except a tiny doll, about two
inches long. In grade school they played jacks with stones and a small green
orange for a ball. The little orange bounced, and she said it worked well.
They would've had an abundance of
balls from the orange trees around. A historical account has it that early
settlers named the town from a plantation (a walk) of oranges. There was
another place in the colony called Orange Walk, where the road west toward
Guatemala formed a
junction with the road to Stann Creek (present Dandriga).7
There is also a place called Lime Walk. Incidentally, something else that
would lend itself to the idea of orangeness
of Orange Walk were the blossoms of the flor de mayo tree, which spread its
limbs, flowered with bright orange petals.
The flor de mayo (which means "mayflower")
would figure into a dream she would later have. There was a poor
soul in her British Honduran town who wore patched pants and a rope for a
belt. He was disfigured with bumps on his face, and ate from
rubbish heaps or from what people gave him He was teased and an object of
laughter. He would come to the
Gonzalez house, and sometimes just stand there. Serafina treated him
kindly and would give him something to eat from what they had.
Sometimes she would give him yard work to earn a meal. Years later,
after having gone to America, she had a dream in which he was walking
backwards ahead of her; he smiled but never spoke. She noticed he was
clean, dressed in white clothes and the bumps were gone from his face. It was
a nice day, sunny with white clouds in a blue sky, and she saw a flor de
mayo tree with its beauty of bright blossoms. A few days later she
received a letter from home, telling her that he'd eaten from canned goods
that had been thrown out, became ill and had died. Considering the timing, and
the images she dreamt, one may well wonder, whether he had been allowed, to
somehow come and say farewell, to one who was a grace in his sad life.
British Honduras was vulnerable to
hurricanes, and during one of these, her family rode out the storm in their
thatch-roofed house: just palm leaves between them and the stormy sky.
The walls of their home consisted of rows of upright trunks of small,
slender tree trunks, plastered over with a mud made of limestone called marl.
During the storm, her
father and a neighbor named Pancho, manned a rope tied to a crossbeam inside
When the hurricane wind blew hard against the house, they pulled on the rope
to counteract its force. This went on most of the night. As a child she
sheltered with her siblings beneath a table, and complained if one of them
crowded against her. Her mother told her to shut up or a piece of marl would
fly into her mouth. The next morning they emerged from house to find it
plastered with leaves. It helped that the house was built two steps off the
ground, with a wooden floor. Otherwise their feet may've been soaked
with water. As it was some of the rain and wind may’ve blown in anyway
through openings it found. Their kitchen was a separate building where
the floor was the ground, so the tempest likely left mud, and maybe even a
few puddles of water.
They lived in that one
story thatch-roofed house until Serafina was about nine years old. Then,
they temporarily occupied a limited space in a nearby house while a
two-story house was being built for them. Unfortunately the carpenters used
green lumber and when it dried, spaces opened between the boards. Pigeons would roost in the
attic and their droppings would even fall through the ceiling into their
living quarters. Serafina would climb up in the attic to clean it. (In the old crinkled photo to the right, a young
and serious Serafina, maybe aged 11-12, is standing in the yard near their well, over which a pulley to haul up water was attached to a
Their house was very near to La Inmaculada church. The priest would come by
in the morning and knock at the window to summon them to come to Mass. Her
father also awakened her early in the morning to fry sweet potatoes for him.
He bought them by the bag. It was his providing way, to buy in quantity.
Even though she was tired, she went down the stairs from the upper floor, to the
kitchen in the dark. There she’d start a fire in the stove, using pieces of ocote, a resinous pine. She had the job of peeling and slicing the sweet
potato known in her Spanish as camote, before frying it in a pan. To this
day she wonders why her father didn’t wake up her older sisters to do the
job. An interesting word, ocote, as British Honduras was part of the old Maya
domain, and ocotl in Aztec is a branch or sliver of pine, or an aromatic
species of it. One may wonder whether ocote was an Aztec word that was
absorbed into the Maya language because it was a trade item between the
But not all of her time was spent
living in Orange Walk. During one period, the family lived about two miles or so from
the town, at a place called Ojo de Agua
(spring in Spanish). Enrique was still alive then, and Serafina understood that he and Juliana used to ride horseback to go to school and
stayed with their Aunt Emilia until Friday
. One summer they stayed in the village of San Lorenzo
(St. Lawrence) where her uncle Augustin had a sugar mill, run by her father. There
they resided in a two-story wooden house with a porch, on the edge of the
road. Once a mentally ill person stopped there and her mother sent
her, her sisters Margarita and Carmita and her brother Santiago, to the back
of the fenced-in yard while she dealt with him. Something her father dealt
with there, was a boa constrictor in the
outhouse. He shot the snake. That summer there was a drought and her father brought them
coconut water to drink, and he would burn dried cow dung so its smoke would
keep mosquitoes away.
There was an old church building in
the village and her uncle had it torn down. Her mother kept the tall
statues that were in it, one of which was of San Lorenzo himself.
older sister Estela remembers riding from San Lorenzo to Orange Walk with
her sister Juliana in a cart, in order to go to school for the week The cart was filled with bags of brown sugar,
processed from the sugar cane.
Her father Leonides
managed a distillery at another place called El Rancho, on land that
belonged to her grandfather (where Cuello’s distillery would later be
located). There he’d poke holes in large pumpkins, and from strings tied
to them, he'd suspend them in big caldrons of bubbling molasses. Immersed
there, he'd cook them for a few days as a treat for his children. They would
come out candied and delicious, even with the seeds toasted.
walking to the Rancho as a child on Saturdays, playing and stopping to pick
wild flowers along the way. (At
the left, she is looking at a flower on the roadside as a young woman)
She said it was safe then and they thought nothing of walking under the hot
tropical sun. At the Rancho, they would slide down a cerro, a
hill or mound in Spanish. Years later the ruins of a Maya site would be discovered
there, and it’s possible the cerro was a mound of dirt and dust covering
some ancient Maya structure. The site was written of and called the oldest
Maya site in the world in a 1982 issue of the National Geographic. That it
is called the Cuello site may be a testimony to the generosity of her
father, as her grandfather’s land was bequeathed to his surviving sons, her
father and her uncle Rodrigo. Another uncle had died and his heirs had no
claim to the land, but Leonides being the man he was, shared it with the
brother’s children, who in turn sold it to a family named Cuello, who would
build a distillery there and bottle a brand called Caribbean Rum. At night
the Mr. Cuello would come and talk to her dad about making rum and used the
recipe her father gave him.
The educational structure in Belize was
different than our country. There was Infant I and II, and six grades after
that. When Serafina was in 6th Grade, about the time she could take the test
for high school, she was beset by terrible pain, so much so that if someone
sat on the bed where she was lying down, that motion alone added to her
discomfort. They took her to the doctor in Orange Walk, who diagnosed her with
appendicitis. He gave her father a letter to that effect and told him to
take her to Belize for surgery. Orange Walk was on the Northern Highway 66 ½ miles
from Belize. He took her for surgery and the ride was painful as the
road was bumpy. It may've taken a couple hours for them to get there. When they finally arrived at the hospital clinic, the nurses said he had to wait his turn. Leonides
didn’t wait. He went right in to see the doctor, and they operated right
away. The appendix was about to burst.
Recovery would take a long time. The incision wouldn’t heal. It was an open wound about as long as it was wide. Finally they stitched it back together, and Serafina
endured the procedure without any anesthetic. Because of her illness she
missed the test for high school and was left behind. Much later, in
considering whether to take the test, she was fearful she wouldn’t do well.
Her education was interrupted at this point
It took time, but when she was well enough, instead of continuing in
school, she went to work.
for an uncle. Besides tending his store,
even closing up at night, she would walk around town with him, to help him
collect rent or conduct whatever other
business he had. He had throat cancer and couldn't speak at all,
so he would write on a pad what he wanted her to say. While she had
some trouble deciphering his handwriting, she spoke for him. She had
to work at night, alone in the store, and walked home about three blocks.
One night a stranger from one of the villages was outside the store when she
left. He apparently
liked her or was enamoured with her, attentions she didn't want.
He followed her
through the dimly-lit streets, she on one side and he on the other, pushing his bike. He followed her all the
way home, verbally bothering her as he did so. She had a can of evaporated milk
with her, and was
so mad, that she threw it at him. Her
brothers went looking for him afterwards, but by then, he'd disappeared.
Serafina belonged to a Sodality, a
religious group called Las Hijas de Maria (The Daughters of
When she was 19, she was elected its secretary. She kept the minutes in an
bluish exercise book with
arithmetic tables on the back. Made in England, it had a picture on
the front of H.M.Queen Elizabeth II. The H. M. stood for Her Majesty
as they were still under British rule as a crown colony. In the
exercise book she recorded such
things as, a mention of their Communion day; the decision of members to change
their uniform to a white dress with a blue bolero; the names of those who volunteered for
different committees (Serafina chose the "Catholic Action"
committee, formed to help the church); and
the time the Rev Father Pick discussed the distribution of powdered milk from the
states, donated to British Honduras. (On empty pages of the book, she
later wrote some recipes of her homeland.)
her father went into business for himself, she helped in that. It was
in a two-story building, with a
club upstairs and a paleteria downstairs. On this ground floor, just
off the street, Serafina sold what they called paletas,
frozen bars made from coconut juice, squeezed from grated coconut.
They called them "paletas de
coco." (in Spanish palo is a stick, and a paleta was the
coconut-flavored treat held by a little stick). The lower level also had a pool table
that she tended, collecting
money from the players. Around the billiards as she was, she handled
another and bigger stick ―
a cue stick ― and she was
pretty good with it.
When she got a job at the Post
Office, she continued working at the paleteria in the evenings. At the Post Office, she sold stamps and handled
mail, and in a separate area, she recorded births and deaths. This
government building stood on a limestone hill, above the river and near the
cable ferry to San Estevan. There were pieces of flint and shards
embedded in the hill and perhaps these were archeological evidence of the
Maya settlement of Holpatin 9 that's
reported to have existed where Orange Walk is situated today
One time the ladies of the Santa Ana Society
chose her for the privilege of playing the part of Our Lady of Guadalupe in
a procession. While others walked, she rode standing up, a decorated
British Land Rover jeep which belonged to the police.
The persons handling this part, tied her, in back of its cab of so she
wouldn't fall. But she
was still worried about losing her balance as there were potholes in the street.
(In the old photo, shown here, it looks like her arm might be raised to tend her veil.)
Although she was quite feminine, and
liked to dress to look nice, it didn't mean she was so delicate as to not
ride on a motorcycle. When her brother Digin rode one, to go to
Chetumal, a distance of around 40 miles that took him over the border into
Mexico, Serafina donned jeans and rode with him. The motorcycle had bags
that hung on both sides where they could put purchases. Away they
went, up the road, speeding along, dodging around chuckholes. At
least part of the road was whitish, and when dry, dusty from limestone
powder, and during the rainy season, muddy. The chuckholes would fill
with water from the rain and even stretch across the whole road. The whitish roadway
may evoke the Maya term, sacbe (see footnote 4). She felt
the breeze, blowing her dark hair against her face and her brown eyes, as she took
in the passing scenes, traveling much faster than her Indian ancestors had
on foot. Though tiring and sometimes rough, for her it was an
She had a branding iron made to brand a cow
she had. She was hardly a cattle baroness as she didn't have much
money to invest in this endeavor and gave up after a cow or so died.
The brand was made of the initials, initially hers: SG
10. When she was
confirmed, she did receive another name, Maria, so an "M" would then be
added to her full set of initials.
She was pretty girl and was also
chosen to be the Queen of the Bay for the colony’s September 10th
celebration. She had been gone to Merida,
Mexico, farther up the Yucatan Peninsula, and when she came back, she found out someone had nominated her. An English
lady, who was also a
doctor's wife, loaned her a pair of white gloves for the occasion. She
wore them but not for the whole time. Although one crown is not pictured
actually wore three different crowns during the event. Why
this happened she doesn't recall, but one might humorously say, it was an
occasion of a triple crown.
white gown she wore, prompted a boy to say that the gown could be her
wedding dress. It happened to be the same boy whose push sent her falling out
the window, Sani Gomez. One might say, in a humorous way, that she
"fallen" for him as a child, but she
never really fell for him as a young woman. Her sister had a boy
friend and she felt she had to have one. She considered Sani hers, but she was never very
serious about it. He was sort of one. She even thought she would never marry.
What would come to pass is a bit curious.
In 1960 an American decided to go to British Honduras to help the Catholic
Mission there. He sent a message by short wave radio that he was
coming, but the message went astray. When he arrived at Stanley Field,
there was no one to meet him. The airfield was nine miles
outside of city of Belize, where he was heading. A British Honduran,
there to meet a sister-in-law who had come in on the same plane, gave the
American a ride into Belize and probably dropped him off at the
Bishop's House. 11
The American wouldn't stay at the Bishop's residence long, as he was assigned to work with the parish in Orange Walk.
The following year, before the
American returned to his home country, he married the young woman who once
thought that she would never marry. The person at the airport who had
given him a ride into the capital city of Belize, was a Gomez, the same
Gomez who pushed her and out the window she went. You might say
the American pushed him out
of the picture, in a definite but not unkindly way. And she
had sorted out, the sort-of one.
1. St. Serafina was born in San Gimignano, in Tuscany, Italy. She was known fondly by family as Fina.
From her early years, she set aside half of her food for the needy. She
was a pretty girl, but at nine, she was afflicted with illnesses which left her
disfigured. She suffered much. For six years she lay on a plank
unable to move by herself. She regarded the plank as her cross, and
repeatedly said to Christ, "It is not my wounds but Yours, O Christ, that
hurt me." When she died, and they removed her from the rotted wood, it
was covered with white violets. These flowers bloom around her feastday and the people of San Gimignano call them "Saint Fina's flowers."
2. It was also
referred to as Spanish Honduras. Hondura means "depth" in Spanish,
and the plural is Honduras. The
name may refer to the depths in the Caribbean Sea which which washes the shores of
both the former British Honduras and Honduras. Or perhaps it refers to the depths of mountain valleys in Honduras itself,
where Serafina's maternal grandfather Jose Maria Leiva came from.
3. La Inmaculada means “the
Immaculate,” a reference to the special privilege bestowed upon the Blessed
Virgin Mary, in light of her becoming the mother of Jesus. The reader
will note that the spelling of the word starts out a little differently in
Spanish than it does in English, "in" instead of "im." The word
in this respect is closer to its origin in Latin, in (non) +
maculatus spotted. In Latin macula means blemish or spot.
Hence, Mary was free of the blemish of original sin as well as personal sin.
4. A Maya word for man is
uinic or uinik.
Another is máak, as in
a white man or box máak,
a black man. It would seem that the plural word
Dz'uluinicob comes partly from
uinic. The singular form is
Dz'uluinic. Compare this
to Maya sacbe meaning "white road," and its plural sacbeob.
5. Rio Hondo means “Deep River” in English. The reader will note the similarity of "hondo"
6. The plain
chachalaca is a large bird that cackles: cha-cha-law-ca among
other sounds it makes; the peccary is a wild pig; and the gibnut
is a nocturnal rodent, a sought-after game animal that can weigh 22 lbs.
It's also called a Tepesquinte.
7. Maybe a contraction of St. Ann Creek. St. Anne in Spanish is
8. Years later she would
continue her education, high school mostly by correspondence, and then college, where she'd get an Associate Degree
at Illinois Central College. She also educates herself in the study of
language, and has studied French, Portuguese and Italian. Right
now she's studying into Italian further, on her
own and with a tutor.
She's even attended a few Arabic classes in the Lebanese language.
9. The Maya word hol means "a
hole, a door, and an opening to go out." And a way out, is a way in.
Victor W. Von Hagen, the American explorer, archaeological historian,
anthropologist and traveler, wrote, " Between A.D. 400 and 800 Tikal and
other interior cities had contact with the sea, using the river roads that
emptied into Chetumal Bay." The river that flowed past Orange Walk was
one of these "roads."
10. Serafina's oldest son of the future (at the left), would take an interest in
history and brought the branding iron back to the states to keep. For
a while it was lost en route by plane. A search was initiated
and it was found loose in the cargo bay of the aircraft, apparently having fallen
out from its
container. The airline flew it back to him the next day.
(At the right is a closer view of the Serafina's initials, showing the "G"
better. The color was probably a result of the camera flash, but it
may be closer to the way the iron looks, coming from the fire.) He also asked for a hat that belonged to his grandfather Leonides, such was his connection to him.
Shane uses the name of his mother's Indian tribe
MAYA on his license plates and
their brother Aaron also feels a tie to mother's native country and her
11. The young man who met him at the door would be the first person
connected to the Church there that he would see. His name was Dorick Wright.
He would go on to become a priest, and had the funeral when Serafina's
mother died. Later he would become the Bishop of Belize. He was in
the seminary with the former bishop of Springfield, Illinois, The Most Rev.
George Lucas, for whom Serafina's son Shaun would work. Bishop Wright
came to Springfield for medical attention and Shaun met and helped him there. The bishop
remembered his meeting with Shaun's father so many years before, and would tell of it.
Above, Serafina in a 2010
portrait by Olan Mills, Chattanooga, picture of her in blue, taken by Mel
Waters of Peoria, who also photographed her another time with her three sons: Shane Eduardo, Aaron Matthew and Shaun Alois.
Shaun stands next to his mother while Shane and Aaron are in front, left
to right respectively.
Elsewhere on this website is an illustration based on this picture,
a favorite of the American in the story.
Information for this story is sourced to the person herself,
Serafina, siblings of hers, to personal observation and hearing; to articles
on the internet; and to various books, including The Maya of Belize:
Historical Chapters Since Columbus by J. Eric S. Thompson, History of
Orange Walk by Charles John Emond, Vocabulario Espanol-Maya - Zavala
y Medina, Maya-English Toponymics, World of the Maya by Victor W.
Von Hagen, and Brief Sketch of British Honduras by A. H. Anderson.